Kerry, get out your cane... and I'll hold back Mariotti while you pummel him with it

>> Friday

There's this relief pitcher currently pitching for a major league team. For now, let's call him... "Woody Kerr." Through 13 appearance's here's "Woody's" stat line:

14.0 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 13 K

I think most people would look at that and say, "Hey, that's a pretty good start." I'd like that guy in my bullpen."

However, due to some unfortunate timing, this pitcher has allowed those ten hits and three walks in such a sequence that they have allowed other teams to make up a three-run-or-less(-unless-there's-more-than-one-man-on-base-in-which-case-it-can-be-a-four-or-five-run)-in-the-seventh-inning-or-later deficit on three occasions.

How should one interpret these circumstances? Well, there's a few ways to look at it. Either A) the pitcher has run into some bad luck; B) he doesn't pitch as well from the stretch and is susceptible to "the wheels coming off" once he allows a baserunner; C) it's too early to make a judgment; or D) he's a no-good, cocksucking, ass-grabbing choke artist piece of shit.

Anyone wanna take a wild guess which interpretation Jay Mariotti subscribes to?

Truth be known, if Kerry Wood simply had done his job Thursday, Lou Piniella wouldn't be melting down on YouTube again and Alfonso Soriano wouldn't be called a $136-million wallflower. A closer's lapses tend to bring a team's ills to life, and given another shot to prove he's a reliable finisher, Wood instead hit the first batter and allowed two warning-track lasers that weren't caught.

Boom. Right there. He was hurt yesterday by some poor defense (which in this case, still counted against his hit and earned run totals). You could argue that Wood was still giving up solid contact and can't always expect his defense to bail him out. Or you could say that it wasn't totally Wood's fault.

Yes, Kerry Wood has plunked three guys so far, which ups his baserunner total to 16 in 14 innings. Again--not bad at all. If he were putting up numbers like Franciso Liriano's right now, I'd be concerned. But he's not.

I realize Cubdom is rooting for him more than a late-innings beer vendor. I understand he's an inspirational presence, having survived 11 disabled-list trips and coming within a day of retiring last year. There would be no better sight at Wrigley than watching Wood close out the World Series, the personification of 21st-century Cubbie woe bringing home the unthinkable dream.

This doesn't really have to do with any argument I may or may not be making, but I will defend Kerry Wood until my dying day. ("Kerry Wood was great, I tell ya." "Grandpa! No one cares about your dinosaur baseball players from the 1900s! We're gonna go watch the Speed Stacking Championship now, ok? That's a real sport." "Achh. No-nothing punks.")

Maybe he was a little stubborn about changing his delivery to avert injury in his younger days, but if I had his OBA and K/9IP rate, my ulna would have to be protruding my skin before I'd change my approach.

But those 11 trips to the DL later, Wood keeps doing everything he needs to continue doing something he loves. He's changed his motion, taken a huge drop in salary, gotten in shape, changed his diet, and accepted relief duty without complaining--all while the Chicago media has dragged him through the mud for getting hurt too much (as if he were trying to) and being paid too much for not pitching.

But the former Kid K has become Kid BS, as in blown save

I used to be known around my office as "Boy-Genius Wunderkind," but then the other day, I misspelled "chlorofluorohydrocarbons" in an email, and now everyone just calls me "Dumbfuck-Face." So I know the feeling.

botching his third of seven opportunities in a ghastly 4-3 loss to the Brewers. His latest collapse -- three hits, a walk, a plunked batter, three earned runs and a wickedly sour taste -- was a mirror image of his Opening Day flop against the same division rivals. The differences between Wood and other big-league closers are many, including the fact he's a neophyte in the role and seems capable of an injury breakdown on any pitch.

Through Eric Gagne's first three years in the majors, he had exactly ten relief appearances and zero saves before rattling off the three straight years of sub-1.00 WHIP, 12+ K/9IP, and--if dumb stats are your thing--45+ saves.

Jose Mesa went into 1999 with 105 saves and a ton of career relief appearances and proceeded to put up a 1.81 WHIP and 6 Ks/9IP.

Oh yeah... Closer experience is super important. (And yes, that's super cherry-picked anecdotal evidence, but give me a break. It's a Friday lunch break post.)

The major difference, though, is that a better man for the position works in the same bullpen.

Carlos Marmol is his name.

[skip skip skip]

It was [Marmol's] eighth held lead in a season in which he has a 1.42 ERA and two saves. In 19 innings, Marmol has struck out 27 -- I repeat, 27 -- and walked five.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about baseball (particularly people who know a great deal about baseball) realize that this is excellent bullpen management. Marmol--the best pitcher in the Cubs' bullpen since early last season and the pitcher most likely to get a strikeout--is being used in the highest leverage situations. If that happens to be a save situation, whatever--it doesn't really matter.

If you're going to designate a certain guy as "the closer" (i.e. a guy that comes in with the bases empty to start the ninth with a lead), it should not be the best reliever on the roster if this is the primary situation for which you intend to use him. That guy should ostensibly be your second- or third-best reliever (which Kerry is on the Cubs, I'd say), and your best guy should be used in the highest-leverage situations--save situation or not.

But the Cubs insist they'll keep knocking on Wood, force-feeding a fairy tale that lacks hope at the moment.

Dumb pun that doesn't really make sense--check. Poor judgment--check. Unsubstantiated speculation--check check double check.

Think the newly bald Carlos Zambrano, who lost a shot at his fifth win as he tries to challenge Arizona's Brandon Webb in the early Cy Young Award race, isn't smarting today?

Some other discussion topics equally relevant as Cy Young voting on May 2:
-Christmas shopping
-The price of firewood
-John Madden
-back-to-school sales

Why do the Brewers trail the Cubs by only a game in the National League Central? Why has Milwaukee taken four of six in the season series? I'd suggest that Eric Gagne, after a ragged start, now has nine saves for the Brew Crew.

That might be the dumbest suggestion since Jerry suggested Babu close down the Dream Cafe and reopen it as a Pakistani restaurant. (Actually, the more you think about it, that was a pretty good idea. Business was floundering anyway, and he had no market differentiation. Maybe people just weren't as willing to embrace exotic cuisine in 1992 as they are now. In hindsight, it didn't work out, but that was no reason for Babu to be such a prick about it.)

As it is, Piniella already is knocking over Gatorade jugs in the dugout, signaling that frustration is now a factor in Year 100 since the last World Series championship. Waiting on Wood to perfect the role, when he never should have been given the opportunity, is officially the No. 1 cause of stress in Cubdom.

This is simply idiotic. What says he shouldn't have? John Smoltz was immediately excellent after switching from starter to ninth inning guy. So was Gagne. So was Tom Gordon. So was Dennis Eckersley. And Goose Gossage. And probably a bunch of other guys that don't immediately come to mind.

We're talking about 16 baserunners in 14 IP. Before yesterday--Wood's first really bad outing--that was 11 in 13. Yes, he's only 4 for 7 in saves, but saves are stupid and arbitrary, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Wood go 15 for his next 15. Nor would it surprise me to see him blow three more in his next seven opportunities.

So in conclusion... I don't know. Whatever. It's 14 innings of work. It's a couple blown leads. Chill out.

(Oh, and if you hadn't already guessed it, "Woody Kerr" is actually.... wait for it... Kerry Wood!)


Patrick 5:08 PM  

I totally agree with you Vin. Its only been one month and the Cubs are still 17-11, people need to chill out. Also, all this nonsense about putting Marmol as the closer is ridiculous.

Okay, what would you rather have. Do you want your arguably best bullpen pitcher (Marmol) to be slated to close out a 3-run game which the Cubs will likely win anyways, or would you rather have him come into a close game situation where the opposition has runners on base and the Cubs are only ahead by one or two? Obviously, you want your best pitcher to be that guy who comes in and slams the door shut on any potential rally.

Anonymous,  12:36 PM  

While I do hate Mariotti I also hate Wood and love starting arguments.
First off this is not anything new with Wood. Wood has had this be an issue his entire career. Wood is just one of those guys(like Sosa) who put up some fantastic numbers in a very flashy way(home runs/strikeouts) which led to them becoming unusually popular. At the same time, while they continue to put up the good numbers it just never translates into results as much as it should. Sosa never got as many RBI's as someone with that kind of slugging power should. Wood never got as many wins or saves as his numbers say he should. Now I know you guys write off wins and saves and RBI's as being largely determined by luck and random chance that can fell any player. To an extent this is true, and I agree that Wood's numbers thus far don't mean much. But for his career his unusually low number of wins and saves is indicative of a larger trend. Really, putting stock in pitcher's wins and saves is no different than putting stock in a team's wins. Both require a healthy amount of luck and a lot of times the team that "deserves" to win just doesn't. That's baseball. That's why noone puts a lot of stock in a team's win loss total after 2 weeks. But after around 100 or so games we kind of figure that the good luck and the bad luck have mostly balanced themselves out and we do say a team that's 60-40 is better than a team that's 40-60 and have no problem pointing at the win total as our primary evidence of this. It's the reason why I think Sosa and Wood were always massively overrated and Bert Blyleven should never be in the Hall of Fame. Wood doesn't wake up wanting to get strikeouts more than anything, he wants to win the game. Accomplishing the goal of your job does mean something. Whether it's a mental weakness or whatever reason Wood has just shown he can't get the job done. If this season's numbers were all we knew about him I'd agree with you but this isn't a new situation. The biggest game of his life was Game 7 of the 03 NLCS and he freely admits he choked in that game, that doesn't mean anything?
As for where your best reliever should be pitching it's an interesting argument. On the one hand what you're saying makes sense and would totally do that if I was playing a baseball videogame. But these are emotionally fragile ballplayers on both sides, crazy supersititous creatures of habit. If my manager feels the psychological edge is enough to justify a minor strategic detriment I can live with it.
Also Zambrano's Cy chances were hurt yesterday. We all know that wins play a role in that award(even though they shouldn't) so I would say that comment is justified.
I for one think that the main problem with the Dream Cafe wasn't the switch to Pakistani food which is excellent. I'd say it's more the way that Babu would glare at you for the entire duration of your meal. Also the shrimp was always a little dry. I mean Jerry never sent back food in that whole show so that shrimp must have been dry as a bone.

Vinnie 10:38 PM  

Sosa's RBI totals from 1998 to 2001 were 158, 141, 138, and 160 (in a year when the rest of the offense was crappy, allowing Sosa to set the obscure MLB record for having the largest RBI differential over the #2 RBI guy on his team). So I'm not sure what you're talking about there.

I don't think it's "mental weakness" (which is sort of absurd to say when you consider what he did the rest of the '03 playoffs) that's kept Wood from getting more wins. The one criticism that people had of him early on was that his style led to too many long ABs because of all the deep counts and foul balls, and as a result, he couldn't go as deep into games as star pitchers who pitch to contact. Whether or not this is even a legit criticism, it probably doesn't help that the Cubs were 9th and 11th in the NL in runs in his only two full seasons as a starter.

Also... poor wording on my part. I didn't mean to insinuate that wins are not of primary concern to Cy Young voters. What I meant was that any discussion of Cy Young voting is beyond premature at this point in the season.

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